Saint Louis University is not upholding its Jesuit mission. As a university, our mission, according to the website, is to “extend compassionate care to the ill and needy; and maintain and improve the quality of life for all persons.” Yet, on Oct. 12, 2018, it was confirmed during “Pizza with President” that SLU has been paying off duty cops to arrest people experiencing homelessness near campus, and they are given a bonus for every person they arrest.
Our university justifies this act by claiming that it makes the parents feel comfortable about the safety of their students, which brings an even bigger issue to light. Should we be alienating the homeless population and judging them as “dangerous” when they are doing nothing more than existing near our campus? This goes against our mission and all the values this university was built upon. We are supposed to reach out to everyone in our community and treat them with love and respect and help improve our community’s quality of life. The reason our university was built in the heart of the city was so that we can easily interact with the community of St. Louis.
One organization on campus that does a great job in practicing the SLU mission is Labre. Every Wednesday, they get together at 6 p.m. and cook dinner. They then divide the food into groups and each group drives out to a different part of downtown and feeds the community. The same people tend to go on the same routes, so SLU students end up building strong friendships with the individuals experiencing homelessness. I’ve personally participated in Labre a couple of times, and it’s an extremely enlightening experience.
Labre is not about simply “feeding the homeless.” It’s about preserving the humanity of our community. Just because someone does not have a roof above their head does not give us the license to dehumanize them or label them as dangerous entities. A lot of them are young adults just like us with similar interests. In Labre, you spend an hour just talking to individuals and getting to know them because we’re not “feeding the homeless,” we’re feeding our community. We’re feeding our friends. Classifying the homeless population as “the homeless” is extremely degrading and dehumanizing. Hiring cops to arrest people to leave an area where they live is extremely rude and uncalled for. The homeless population may not have a house near SLU, but this is where they live. To know that my tuition money is going toward removing people from where they live for doing absolutely nothing is unsettling to my stomach. My university is hiring cops to remove my friends from their homes.
I’ve heard parents are scared because “they often do drugs.” I do not deny this, one of the top causes of homelessness is drug abuse. However, a lot of my classmates do drugs as well, yet no one fears any of them. We have to admit that as a society we have unfairly alienated the homeless portion of our community. We look down upon them, and we fear them.
It’s time to wake up. Wake up and realize that becoming homeless does not make you less of a human—someone that can just be thrown around wherever we want. Being homeless does not make you less of a human to where you are just a body to feed. Experiencing homelessness does not put you into a separate community from SLU students. Thanks to Labre, I build relationships with new people and try to help them grow from their hardships. For example, Labre delivers food to Nancy and Clyde, a couple that used to experience homelessness but who now have a house. Labre still follows up on them every week to make sure they have food, and moreover because they are friends.
We need to stop our university from having cops arrest individuals experiencing homelessness for merely existing in an area near SLU. There are better solutions on how to improve the safety of students on campus. Instead of a great deal of money to arrest harmless people experiencing homelessness, why not invest in free Uber rides for the students? At WashU, every student receives two free Uber rides per day to improve the safety of their students on campus. I appreciate SLU’s willingness to spend money with the intention of improving my safety, but paying off duty cops to arrest people experiencing homelessness for no reason is not improving safety; it’s just dehumanizing and degrading members of our community.